Media professionals have come out defending themselves on allegations labelling them “Stratcom” agents on front-page articles published by all major Independent Media-owned newspapers on Friday.
The newspapers carried front-page stories titled, Exposed: Stratcom version 2018.
The article alleges that the company has evidence that senior executives of a major competitor had plotted to scupper the listing of Sagarmatha Technologies on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. The umbrella company was hoping to unite the various groups in Independent Media group boss Iqbal Survé‘s media empire under a new roof.
The “evidence” in the report points to an alleged dirty tricks campaign, similar to the apartheid regime’s Stratcom (strategic communications) which had been set up to create a smear campaign against the late struggle veteran Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.
However, Business Day editor Tim Cohen, who is among those named in the article has described the matter as “terrible, hurtful, ridiculous” saying the accusations levelled against the journalists were potentially harmful.
“By seeking to draw a false analogy between investigative financial journalism and media manipulation in the apartheid era, they disgrace the proud body of work of people who fought against the actual Stratcom, ironically some of whom are mentioned in the story.
“They represent a disgraceful manipulation of editorial independence by a proprietor transparently serving his own personal interests,” Cohen said.
Meanwhile Sam Sole, an investigative journalist at amaBhungane, said it was unfortunate that media outlets were used for “commercial propaganda against journalists”.
“In terms of their criticism, they are trying to suggest that I was part of a programme to benefit Tiso Blackstar. I have got nothing to do with Tiso Blackstar.
“We don’t get money from Tiso Blackstar and we are not employed by them. What they published was a piece of propaganda,” he said told News24.
He said the story published by Independent Media undermined media freedom and added that the story was more similar to what a Stratcom operation looked like.
Tiso Blackstar chief executive Andrew Bonamour refused to comment on the matter.
The story also claims that, as with Winnie in the past, the smear campaign was now aimed at Independent Media and Survé.
This comes days after allegations were made that a number of journalists had been employed by the apartheid government as spies during the apartheid era.
In a documentary filmed days after Madikizela-Mandela’s death, Stratcom head Vic McPherson claimed he had 40 journalists planted to write defamatory articles on Madikizela-Mandela.
“I already had 40 journalists working directly or indirectly for me. So through them, I could have specific reports placed in the newspapers, and it would be front page,” McPherson says.
The South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) on Friday released a statement in response to the Independent’s article, expressing its deep concerns and disgust.
“This is a sad day for South African journalism. The Independent Media group has been a critical part of the media landscape for decades. Some of the finest journalism to come out of this country has been produced by journalists working on titles like The Star, Cape Times and The Mercury.”
The editors’ forum said it believed the attack on journalists playing their watchdog role in investigating private sector irregularities was “not only defamatory, but disgusting.” – News24